Hike to Phajoding

Dear Blog,
We had a namisami jigs (totally awesome) weekend. We hitchhiked into Thimphu and got out at the base of our trek to Phajoding with our friends Dorji, Deki, Jimba, Tom Chu, Kinley and Tshewong. It was fifteen minutes in before our first tea break. We were expected to reach our destiny within three hours. The actual duration was five hours because when the going got tough, we stopped. And we ate. Traditional medicine tip: chocolate is good for mountain sickness which is caused by either high altitude or breathing the smell of poisonous plants. We had a run in with some yaks and picked up rochi charo (dog friends): Blackie and Brownie. Then night fell and we decided that the closest monastery was close enough to where we were actually supposed to go. We were immediately served tea while we prepared dinner in the kitchen: a small tin enclosure with a fire in the middle and wooden benches. We learned how to make ema datsi, which we ate with to marp and more tea with ginger. There was no silverware so we used “five Bhutanese chopsticks,” our hands. It was a mess, but fun. That night we slept on the floor in the workers’ tin roofed shanty.
The next day we woke up and made breakfast: fried rice with kopi ezay. We also made our lunch, which we packed in plastic bags. We looked at the lake nearby our shanty where a mermaid is believed to reside. You must be respectful around the lake (don’t shout or throw things in it) or else she will retaliate and you will get lost in the mountains. We started our hike to the lake Duntsho. We hiked until we got to a chorten in an etho metho (rhododendron) forest where the mountain plateaued, and we stopped for lunch. We continued when a hailstorm hit and we almost turned back. It was short-lived though and we decided to keep trekking. Then one of our friends started feeling sick. The Bhutanese are very religious and saw these two events as two warning signs. Not wanting to see the third, we had tea and turned around. It was a good thing we did so because shortly after a thick fog rolled in that clearly would’ve obstructed our vision, making navigating the rocky path difficult.
On the way back to our campsite we stopped at three temples. At the first one, Thuji dra, we were given tea and zao and we gave them a bottle of juice. Outside there was what looked like a chorten burning etho metho inside as offerings. This temple was made in the 13th century by Phajodrugomzhipo, who spread Kagyupa Buddhism all over Bhutan. We visited his meditation room, a room with an altar and cushions. Our friends collected some holy water dripping from the mountain and we continued on. The second temple was called Chana Dorji, after a local deity. Chana Dorji is the god of power and is blue in color and holds a thunderbolt in one hand and a vajra in the other. The third temple, under construction, was for Jampelyang, known for wisdom and knowledge. He is depicted holding a flaming sword in his right hand that cuts through ignorance. This flaming sword is the emblem for RTC. Our friends said that as students it was important for us to go to this temple. Next to Jampelyang was the God of song Hama Yanchen. Kinley told us that in assembly in school as part of daily routine the students have to do a song-type prayer to worship this deity. These last two temples that we visited were built in the eighteenth century.
We returned to our shanty and relaxed a little before making dinner. After dinner we went to sleep, or so we thought. We were awoken by Dorji’s call: “Sara, get up! Chung is on the way!” Ara with eggs: a midnight snack. We’ve drunk before with these girls, and never before were they so much in their element. They ate it up. We cringed but obliged.
The next morning we brought butter and incense to a temple dedicated to the future Buddha. When this world ends he will be born to spread the Buddhist teachings in the next world. On his lap he held a small begging bowl, the volume of which can’t be exceeded in one day’s begging.
On the hike back down we took every available shortcut, which was always the steeper and narrower path. This however did not compensate for the number of breaks we took. When we reached the road, we walked to the Takin reserve, a home for Bhutan’s national animal. It is believed that Takins originate from Bhutan’s eccentric lama Drukpa Kunley. Before performing any miracles he demanded a cow and goat to eat. After eating them he attached the goat head to the cow’s body and it came to life. Today taxonomists can’t find a close related family so they placed it in a category of its own. Spooky takin! The stockiest of the goat antelope family!
We caught a cab back into town and ended our night in our dorms eating, with our hands, a pack lunch we made that morning.
Sara Mitsinikos (aka Sara Wangmo) and Annie Bennett (aka Chillip Tseldon)

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